Adoption Again Considered
I have written before of the adoption we, as children of God, receive; it is a wondrous thing to consider, especially in light of those qualities of the flesh which our God has deigned, along with His wondrous grace in Christ Jesus birthing us anew, to allow us to yet dwell in, and I am convinced, from Scripture, that this remnant of corruption we yet must fight, by His gracious power, to put to death daily – one might well say moment-by-moment – is for the sole purpose of humbling us, that we might not think ourselves better than any others, or think that we have merit before God which He has not imputed to us.
How grievous it is to commit sin! From thoughts of unrighteous anger against our brethren, to lusting for things in covetous manner others have which we do not, to things done in secret where our brethren cannot see (but God sees all), sin is a firebrand, a hot poker, a searing flame which burns against the regenerate soul, spoiling our sure knowledge that we are in that fellowship in the light with our great God and Savior through His eternal Spirit. For, from God’s view (infinite, eternal, perfect, etc.), we ARE in that union with Him, but all too often, we do not reap the benefits of that union by our purposed ignorance of it, especially when we choose to sin (and I am convinced that not only our secret sins must be here accounted for, but those presumptuous sins we all too often partake of – Psalm 19:13).
It may well be asked, what has this to do with adoption?
First of all, we must establish that this adoption in Jesus Christ into the family of God is not like the adoption common to man, and we may do this easily, for one’s nature does not change in human adoption; oh, there is the name change, the change of privileges, perhaps, of social status, or maybe just a change of location, but this pales in comparison with what happens when God adopts a depraved sinner into His family, for He makes them His child by changing their nature through His eternal Spirit applying the work of His Son to their formerly dead-in-sin souls.
This is rightly called a new creation, and it changes not only our nature from being dead-in-sin to being alive unto God, but it changes the way we are to relate to, first, God, secondly, our brethren in Christ, and finally, to the world (2 Corinthians 5:17; Galatians 6:14-15; 2 Corinthians 1; John 15:18-19; 1 John 3:13; Colossians 4:6; Galatians 1:23; 1 Timothy 3:7 – though to elders, the principle in this Scripture from 1 Timothy 3 pertains to all believers outer witness to unbelievers – Jude 1:3).
This is a fundamental change, founded in He who is the federal head of all those who are God’s children; Jesus Christ, as to His humanity, is the first man ever to live without sin, and it is this work of His – His righteousness, holiness, love, fear of God, with all else that He relied on the Spirit of holiness to manifest in His perfect walk before the Father – that we receive; but receive, here, though divinely imbued with a depth of meaning that God placed into it (John 1:12-13) may be too weak a word for consideration of this radical change; rather, using the language of the Scripture that expands this meaning of all the rights and privileges a child of God receives, we are told “22 Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly from a pure heart, 23 since you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God” (1 Peter 1:22-23).
Both “seed” and “word” are singular, in this quote, and may be understood to not simply refer to those written oracles which the Spirit uses to mold us into the image of our Lord, but of the action of regeneration which applied the human nature of He who is that living and abiding Word of God, that singular Seed, to our formerly dead nature. He is the firstborn from among the dead, not in the sense that He was dead in sins, but in the sense that He was the One who tasted death first, taking the judgment for the sins of those whom He will look upon and be satisfied by His great work, not only appeasing the righteous wrath of God on their behalf, but gaining that status of the Preeminent One, He who is preferred before all others, and it is precisely in this sense that we – each and every one of us whom the Father has drawn to the Son – that the Son has shown the Father too (Mathew 11:27c), and the Spirit has applied that work of regeneration and adoption – it is precisely in this sense that we are, each of us, a new creation (cf. Romans 8:29; Colossians 1:15, 18). This is to say that adoption does not convey to us that nature of God which is of His solitary glory, but rather, the attributes enjoyed by our Lord in His perfect humanity (Isaiah 48:11; 2 Peter 1:3-4). NOTE: Some – many – theologians of the Reformed faith have called this exchange of corruption for incorruption “communicable attributes;” to address this is beyond the scope of this present paper.
This is not referring to that status He has always enjoyed as the infinitely, ideally, eternally self-existent God the Son; rather, it is referring to that status He earned by living perfectly to God, then offering Himself as the perfectly effectual and eternal sacrifice for the sins of His elect (Hebrews 5:7-9). It is in the status of our Lord as the first born from among the dead as He lived unto God, then sacrificed Himself on our behalf, that we receive not only that status and privilege of being adopted into the family of God, but the very recreated nature that is requisite to being a member of that family.
In the world, there has long been a saying among various strata of society regarding one’s lineage: “Blood will tell.” This simply means the bloodline of those who come from a certain set of genetic traits in a familial progression will show in the behavior and demeanor of each member of that family.
For we who are adopted into the family of God, how much more will the blood of our precious-beyond-comparison Lord of glory tell?
This blood not only purchased, for we who are children of God, rights and privileges, but rights and privileges that are eternal, never to pass away; this blood not only purchased us appeasement from the righteous wrath of God, but a new nature, an actual rebirth that goes far beyond rights and privileges. Adoption into our God’s family is to be literally reborn as a member of that family, and there the comparisons between earthly adoption of any kind, no matter how privileged, fall into non-existence; furthermore, this rebirth is now, with God Himself, in the Person of His Holy Spirit, taking up residence in us, to guarantee us the fulness of our heritage in Christ Jesus, our Lord, in the age to come (Ephesians 1:13-14).
To restate: Adoption is being created anew, and then placed into that familial relationship with eternal benefits and satisfactions, all according to God’s good pleasure. At the point of regeneration, we exercise repentance of sin and belief (two sides of the same coin) in Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior, are indwelt by the Spirit of adoption, and spiritually placed into the family of God as reborn believers in the effectual work of our Lord Jesus Christ, guaranteeing that which God has promised to us in the eternal state (Romans 8:29; Ephesians 1:13-14). This is unlike any adoption the world can give, as it involved the new birth; our heritage is hidden in God, bound in Jesus Christ (Colossians 3:3).
So, again, what has this to do with the fact of sin which yet “indwells us?” (Romans 7:17, 20)
It is a fact that we are not perfected in this life – this present gospel age. God has left us in these tents of decrepitude, which any believer knows about, and rightly grieves, for we do things that are contrary to that glorious heritage of being recreated as “children of God.” To say that this is humbling is a mild way to express it, but it is the only way I know of to express it, and that our great and glorious God has deemed we live now, in such a state as to think, speak and do things that are contrary to that which we have been recreated as, and which we one wonderful day will expressly be fully, seems, to me, to be for the express purpose of knowing that “all this” – that is, all of the new creations we are in Christ – “are of God,” “not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” (2 Corinthians 5:17-18; Ephesians 2:9).
Much has been written about what it means to be holy, submitted to the Lord, and I will not add to that great body of literature here except to say that it is true, it is fact, and it does apply; however, we humans are proud creatures, even after the Lord has claimed us and we understand that amount of His truth which He gives us to know. Too often, we act in a manner that is inconsistent with the knowledge He has imparted to us; we speak, think, and even write as if we did not experience the vagaries of this fact that “the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do.” (Galatians 5:21). Even with this Scripture from Galatians, we read it as if we will do those things that are always of God, and not do the things we do not want to do, although we are told “My little children, I am writing these things so that you may not sin; but if anyone does sin, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous,” and “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.” (1 John 2:1-2; 1:8)
Now, these are very interesting verses, because whereas 1 John 2:1-2 puts forth the possibility – even more strongly, the probability – that we have these great and precious promises so that we will abstain from fleshly passions which war against the flesh, 1 John 1:8 speaks to the fact that, as Paul states so plaintively in Romans 7, we yet do commit sin, and even emphasizes that fact by telling us if we deny this fact, God’s truth is not in us.
Is that not humbling?
Which of us has not had some sin or another beset us more than once, after we had thought it to be gone in our identity in Christ as “more than conquerors,” only to have it crop up again so that we find ourselves crying out to the Lord for forgiveness and that victory we thought we had obtained?
Furthermore, which of us has not, in these moments of (dare I say) unwanted humiliation of sinning against the very One who shed His blood for us not felt the burning of that horror that we would so dare to even desire to do anything against His infinite holiness?
Again, all earthly analogies fade to nothingness when compared to the familial relationship of being of our heavenly Father’s family though His grace in Jesus Christ; consider, if we treated our earthly father’s in the same way we treat our heavenly Father, many would soon be disowned, or at best, have extended stress and relational breakdowns in the family.
Would you spit in your earthy father’s face? That would be good for a smack down; yet is not this very thing done each and every time we sin against our heavenly Father?
If your elder brother pushed you out of the way of an oncoming car, getting mortally wounded in the process, would you trample through his blood and mock his efforts which saved you? That would draw exclamations of horror and indignation even in this sin-hardened world; yet, in both private and public moments, how we have sinned against the blood of the covenant by which our Lord sanctified Himself, that we might be sanctified in Him, in truth (John 17:19; 1 Corinthians 1:29).
When we realize the great and infinite worth of our Lord, Savior and God – His majestic holiness – we begin to realize that we cannot truly comprehend and appreciate it completely, but we can know it well enough to understand the enormity of even a single sin against Him – and still, we sin, and all sin is against God, in the most primary sense (2 Samuel 12:9-10; Psalm 51:3-4; Acts 5:1-4).
The thing is, as we cannot fully fathom God’s immeasurable and glorious holiness, we also cannot entirely understand the magnitude of His grace to us in His elective adoption of us into His family. It helps, somewhat, when we understand that God does not operate as first, this attribute, then that characteristic – He is always fully, infinitely, supremely, gloriously holy in all that He does, and at the same time fully loving, fully righteous, fully indignant against sin, and so on. God is not separated into component parts – He is always the entire sum of His attributes and fully each attribute in sum, equally, harmoniously.
So, we have the fact of ongoing sin in our lives, and the fact of the holiness of our great and glorious God, and it is in the context of these two unalterable facts in which we must consider the doctrine of adoption, which brings us to that which God gives us according to His good pleasure: grace, which is the Scriptural word for all that God gifts us with in Christ Jesus our Lord (referring to special grace to His elect).
So many of the things which have been written on Christian living seem to downplay the fact that we will yet sin, while conversely, others diminish the necessity that God “is training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.” (Titus 2:13-14) Since the biblical writers never downplay sin, and never downplay the necessity for holy living, and since we know how transcendently holy God is compared to us even after we are redeemed and adopted, this makes it imperative to understand, if not the complete extent, at least the operation of that by which God has placed us in His family, which is simply by His grace in Christ Jesus for the purpose of exalting Himself (Ephesians 1:6). This is not to say God’s special grace is simple; it is to say that we may comprehend it clearly enough to understand the relationship we have as His children well enough to know that we are in Christ Jesus, have the adoption by Him through His Spirit, and can understand the various facets of our continuing failure (sin in us) over and against the compelling desires of the new nature to “be holy, as He is holy.” (1 Peter 1:14-16)
So, now, do you understand the fullness of being adopted in the Beloved?
I hope these meditations, as rudimentary as they are, impress and express the enormity of what God has done by bestowing upon us His grace to adopt us into His family. I remain unworthy, decrepit, and thoroughly humbled by this grace of adoption – I prove myself unworthy daily, and, at times, moment-by-moment.
How do these truths affect you, dear brother or sister in the Lord?
Psalm 106:1: Praise the LORD! Oh give thanks to the LORD, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever!
2 Corinthians 5:21: For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
Soli Deo Gloria – Bill